Like many locals, Mississippi native and designer Michael McDaniel had every right to be angered when he looked at how the government was responding to Hurricane Katrina. Growing up near a river, he was no stranger to flooding and hurricanes from the Gulf, but as he saw the most powerful nation in the world enact the same housing response plan it had used for Hurricane Camille 37 years prior (travel trailers and rental inventory), he knew there was a better way.
The a-ha moment occurred when he was drinking a cup of coffee and flipped over the empty cup; think of the advantages of a similarly modular, stackable structure. The impetus for the Exo Housing System was born. McDaniel founded a company, Reaction, to produce the shelters, and began attacking the design problem with a few characteristics in mind (light enough to be set up by hand, safe and secure enough for families). His solution ended up being uniquely American.
"I found the best solution was the teepee as used by nomadic tribes in the Midwest," he says. "Pretty amazing. It’s a highly portable and great communal structure."
These 80-square-foot structures best anything FEMA’s been using in many ways—they can be assembled by hand in two minutes, cost a quarter of the money to build ($5,000 each) and are stackable and portable (20 shelters, enough to house 80 people, can fit on a standard trailer truck). Now on display at SXSW, the Exo has gotten rave reviews, and an Indiegogo campaign is raising money to build prototypes that can be sent by the Austin-based company to areas in need around the world. Every $10,000 raised online will send one Exo to a place in need, such as Syria.
"It’s a win-win," says McDaniel, since the plan gets prototypes into the world and allow for iteration and improvement before wider deployment. "We’re keen on being a double bottom line enterprise."
During the course of his career writing about music and design, Patrick Sisson has made Stefan Sagmeister late for a date and was scolded by Gil Scott-Heron for asking too many questions. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Nothing Major, Wax Poetics, Stop Smiling and Chicago Magazine.